Studies shows 10% of users consume two-thirds of the weed in Canada
It’s been nearly one year since cannabis was legalized in Canada and a professor at the University of Northern British Columbia says knowing who is using it is important to develop sound policy aimed at reducing cannabis-related harms.
Russ Callaghan, medical professor at UNBC, is the lead author of an article in the forthcoming December issue of the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence that identifies who consumes the most cannabis in Canada.
Callaghan and a team of researchers looked at data from the federal government’s 2018 National Cannabis Survey to find out who are the biggest users and how that should inform public policy.
According the survey conducted prior to legalization — which did not distinguish between legal and illegal cannabis — 10 per cent of people use roughly 66 per cent of the cannabis in Canada. The data also showed males reported higher use than females and males aged 15-34 were the highest using subgroup.
Callaghan said the usage rates are similar to alcohol statistics which show the heaviest users consume a high proportion of alcohol in Canada.
Possible harms from cannabis use include impaired driving, lung cancer and personal injury, although he noted there is not a lot of evidence yet linking weed to non-traffic related injuries.
“We’ve legalized it so it’s a real large societal experiment,” said Callaghan in a phone interview on CBC’s The Early Edition, adding particular risks associated with edible cannabis products may become evident after they become legal this year.
With weed, as with alcohol, consumption rates can be influenced by prices and taxation, the availability of stores in a neighbourhood and their operating hours.
The study included a team of researchers from UNBC, the University of British Columbia, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), and the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria.
Cannabidiol, or CBD oil, is promoted for a wide range of medical conditions. Recently, a review for doctors weighed the science behind the claims.
The Clinicians’ Guide to Cannabidiol and Hemp Oils was published earlier this month in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
CBD is a compound found in the cannabis plant. It is not intoxicating, Health Canada said.
As of October 2018, the sale of dried cannabis, fresh cannabis, cannabis oil, cannabis plants and cannabis seeds are permitted under the the Cannabis Act.
As consumer interest in CBD grows ahead of the Oct. 17 legalization of cannabis edibles, extracts and topicals, here’s a primer to answer common questions about its health claims for seizures, pain and other conditions.
What is CBD approved to treat?
Epidiolex, a purified form of plant-based CBD, is the only CBD-related treatment approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is used to treat severe forms of epilepsy. Epidiolex isn’t listed in Health Canada’s database of medications approved for use in this country.
Health Canada assigns a drug identification number (DIN) to all drug products evaluated and authorized for sale in this country. To qualify, a drug manufacturer needs to provide information including dosing, strength and how it’s taken.
“Currently, there are two cannabis-related drugs that have a DIN and are authorized for sale in Canada,” a spokesperson for Health Canada said in an email.
Nabilone, a synthetic tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, product is approved to treat nausea. THC is the main psychoactive component in cannabis that gives users a high.
The other drug with a DIN is Sativex, which is manufactured from whole botanical extracts and contains THC and CBD, according to Health Canada. Sativex is added to treatments aimed at relieving spasticity in adults with multiple sclerosis. Spasticity is a muscle-control disorder.
No CBD-specific product has a DIN.
As well, no other “cannabis-related drug (including fresh or dried marijuana or cannabis oil) has been approved to be marketed as a drug for therapeutic use and sale in Canada,” Health Canada said.
What is CBD commonly used for?
There are anecdotal reports from users of CBD helping with certain types of pain, such as nerve-related back pain.
“Chronic pain management continues to challenge patients and physicians alike, and investigation into potential therapies such as CBD and hemp oils is a promising area for the future of clinical pain management for both pain relief as well as addiction management,” Dr. Karen Mauck, an internist at Mayo Clinic, and her co-authors wrote.
Dr. Hance Clarke, director of pain services at Toronto General Hospital who wasn’t involved in the U.S. paper, said he starts by asking patients what symptoms they want to use CBD to treat.
It’s one of the first times in Canadian history where a medication has made it to the population without the science actually leading us there.– Dr. Hance Clarke, director of pain services at Toronto General Hospital
“The evidence has not caught up to the story that’s in the public,” Clarke said. “It’s tricky. It’s one of the first times in Canadian history where a medication has made it to the population without the science actually leading us there.”
Physicians need to work with patients to figure out what people are using, the levels in their body and what’s actually helped and what hasn’t.
“The world is looking to Canada over the next five to 10 years,” Clarke said. An evidence-based perspective on cannabis is needed rather than solely industry’s, he said.
CBD now is widely used by people for all kinds of disease, in particular anxiety, panic attack, bipolar disorder, depression. But we don’t know if CBD is really good for these kind of diseases.– Dr. Gabriella Gobbi
“CBD now is widely used by people for all kinds of disease, in particular anxiety, panic attack, bipolar disorder, depression,” said Dr. Gabriella Gobbi, the study’s author and a psychiatrist at McGill University’s faculty of medicine in Montreal. “But we don’t know if CBD is really good for these kinds of diseases.”
Only clinical trials in humans can show if CBD is really effective for an illness, Gobbi said.
In Canada, pharmaceutical companies are sponsoring clinical trials to test CBD products in people.
How do you know what’s in the product?
Depending on what part of the plant is extracted, different components will be present in the oil, the Mayo Clinic authors said. Their list of what clinicians should look for include:
Manufacturing standards certification, such as pesticide or herbicide testing.
European Union, Australian or Canadian organic certification.
Lab testing to confirm cannabinoid levels and the absence of heavy metals.
“We see variations from batch to batch where patients are doing well on something, and potentially the next time they seek that same product, potentially they’re not seeing the same effects,” Clarke said.
A research letter published in 2017 in JAMA found nearly 70 per cent of CBD extracts sold online were mislabelled.
“A lot of CBD oil can have very little or contain lots of THC, so you must be very careful,” Gobbi said. “We need more quality control.”
What side-effects have been reported?
In larger studies on CBD treatment for epileptic patients, it was associated with drowsiness, decreased appetite and diarrhea in up to 36 per cent of people, the Mayo Clinic authors said, adding the side-effects were less severe and frequent compared with a conventional anticonvulsant medication.
The FDA said its review of a marketing application for Epidiolex suggested potential for liver injury associated with CBD.
You can’t just self-treat.– Dr. Gabriella Gobbi
“You can’t just self-treat,” Gobbi said.
What about drug interactions?
The main drug interactions doctors and pharmacists look for are drugs, such as morphine, oxycodone, sleeping pills, antidepressants or antipsychotics, that already make you sleepy, confused or impair co-ordination.
“If you’re taking those medications to begin with and you use cannabis, we’d expect that those side effects would get worse,” said Kelly Grindrod of the University of Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy.
People should talk to their physician, nurse or pharmacist to discuss potential drug interactions when determining whether to try CBD.
Maddie Brown, a registered practical nurse and cannabis consultant based in Ottawa, helps patients with medical cannabis prescriptions understand how CBD works and obtain it.
“I’m definitely most concerned about blood thinners,” Brown told CBC Radio’s White Coat, Black Art. “CBD can make Coumadin [a blood thinning medication] more potent.”
The general advice is to start low and go slow, especially if taking medications that are known to interact, Grindrod said.
If there’s one thing Canadians can count on to radically transform food and drink in the new year, it’s the advent of licit edibles
From Taiwanese cheese tea (tea topped with cheesy foam), which is apparently poised to become “the new bubble tea,” to a rise in “peganism” (a paleo/vegan diet mashup), forecasters have already predicted several new trends for 2019. But if there’s one thing Canadians can count on to radically transform food and drink in the new year, it’s the introduction of newly licit edibles.
In a second wave of recreational legalization, cannabis-infused food and drink will be lawful in Canada no later than Oct. 17, 2019, and sales are projected to boom. Although the real change on the consumer side will come closer to the end of the year, 2019 promises to be packed with new products, including the world’s first beer brewed from marijuana (Province Brands’ imperial pilsner).
According to a report by marijuana market research company The Arcview Group, edibles are expected to quadruple in Canada and the U.S. by 2022, reaching a value of more than $4.1 billion. Meanwhile, global sales are anticipated to surge from $9.5 billion in 2017 to $32 billion. The report further states that “the edibles market is up for grabs. We’re already seeing mainstream beverage companies scrambling to take advantage of part of this significant opportunity.”
Megabrand Anheuser-Busch InBev, brewer of Budweiser, recently partnered with Nanaimo, B.C.-headquartered cannabis company Tilray. The companies will reportedly spend $50 million on a study, which Labatt Brewing Company (a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch InBev) will conduct “to develop a deeper understanding of non-alcohol beverages containing THC and CBD.”
The beer giant isn’t alone in its pursuit of non-alcoholic, cannabis-infused drinks. Constellation Brands — the company behind Corona and Svedka vodka — has a 38 per cent stake in Smiths Falls, Ont.-based cannabis company Canopy Growth, and Molson Coors has partnered with Gatineau, Que.-based Hexo. According to Bloomberg, even Coca-Cola is “closely watching the growth of non-psychoactive CBD as an ingredient in functional wellness beverages around the world.”
Toronto Const. Vittorio Dominelli. Photo via Twitter.
We now know a hell of a lot more about the two Toronto cops who allegedly got so high while on duty that they had to call backup for themselves.
The duo of Constables Jamie Young and Vittorio Dominelli are facing a disciplinary tribunal this week—they made their first appearance on Tuesday—and released police documents are giving us a much clearer picture of what happened. (Shoutout to City News for putting the documents online.)
The tale begins on January 27 at 5 PM when the two cops took part in the search and seizure of a Toronto dispensary, according to the documents. Young was the officer in charge of the seized substances and it’s alleged that she “failed to account for” three packages of chocolate hazelnut edibles.
After the seizure, at about 11 PM, Dominelli and Young were sent to surveil a central Toronto restaurant and allegedly, they got hungry. And remember, allegedly, they had some
sweet, sweet chocolate edibles. And then they got super hiiiiigggghhhh (allegedly). At 1 AM, for some reason, Dominelli started to run up the street they were monitoring and put in a distress call as he thought he was going to pass out. Meanwhile Young just straight up called 911. However, when the reinforcement showed up to help the officers the high-as-fuck duo weren’t together.
They first found Dominelli who “appeared to be in distress” and sent him to a hospital. Soon afterwards they found Young and “it soon became apparent that [she was] also in distress and in need of medical attention.” At the hospital, Dominelli and Young admitted to eating the edibles. When the responding officers collected the personal belongings of Young and Dominelli, they found two full packages of the edibles and one empty one. To make this even more Abbott and Costello-esque, an officer who was responding to the officers’ call for help slipped on some ice and had to go to the hospital as well.
At least one of the cops had a colourful online footprint. This included a Twitter video of Dominelli singing the Afroman classic “Because I Got High” and another clip of the officer with his arms crossed nodding along to the Bruno Mars song, “Versace on the Floor.”
When the story first broke a lawyer who is defending several dispensary employees who have been charged told VICE that, if these allegations are true, the duo are “inexperienced cannabis users.” Due to their actions, the charges against the people involved in the search and seizure were dropped.
As a result of their little adventure Constable Jamie Young is facing four misconduct charges and Constable Vittorio Dominelli is facing six—both have been suspended with pay.
It is widely acknowledged that natural compounds of the cannabis — a plant that the use, sale, and possession of is still illegal in the United States — can prevent, treat and manage inflammation; neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis; brain disorders such as epilepsy; lifestyle related diseases such as diabetes and cancer; chronic liver diseases such as liver cirrhosis; and medical conditions such as fibromyalgia.
Dr. William Courtney, a California-based physician and a dietary raw cannabis specialist, says we are actually walking away from 99% of the benefits cannabis provides when we cook or smoke cannabis. He explains:
“Additionally, the body is able to tolerate larger dosages of cannabinoids when cannabis is consumed in the raw form. This is because when you smoke cannabis, the THC actually acts as a CB1 receptor agonist and your body can only absorb 10 mg at a time.
“If you don’t heat cannabis, you can go up to five or six hundred milligrams and use the plant strictly as a dietary supplement by upping the anti-oxidant and neuro-protective levels which come into play at hundreds of milligrams of CBDA and THCA. It is this dramatic increase in dose from 10 mg of psychoactive THC to the 500 mg – 1,000 mg of non-psychoactive THCA, CBDA, and CBGA that comprises the primary difference between traditional medical cannabis treatments and using cannabis as a dietary supplement.”
It is no secret that cannabis contains a wealth of nutrients, proteins, vitamins, terpenes, Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, essential amino acids, and antioxidants. When eaten raw, our body is able to process much larger amounts of THCA and CBDA — which possess anti-inflammatory properties, anti-diabetic properties, and anti-ischemic properties — and converts these cannabinoid acids — linked to the prevention of chronic diseases such as migraine, irritable bowel syndrome, glaucoma, and fibromyalgia — into essential nutrients through its metabolism.
Juicing, Dr. William argues, is the best way to consume cannabis, therapeutically. For palatability and effect, he recommends soaking cannabis leaves in water for five minutes before juicing; blending raw cannabis with a minimal amount of organic fruit or vegetable juice, just enough to cut the bitter taste of the raw cannabis; and splitting the juice into small portions for consumption during the day.
Cannabinoids prevent cancer, reduce heart attacks by 66% and insulin dependent diabetes by 58%. Researchers have confirmed that cannabidiol, one of at least 113 active cannabinoids identified in cannabis, has the ability to ‘switch off’ the gene responsible for metastasis in an aggressive form of breast cancer, along with avoiding toxicity that is encountered with psychoactive cannabinoids at high doses.
Dr. William recommends drinking 4 – 8 ounces of raw flower and leaf juice from any Hemp plant, 5 mg of cannabidiol per kg of body weight, a salad of Hemp seed sprouts and 50 mg of THC taken in 5 daily doses. “The amount of cannabinoids we need would be difficult to get through smoked cannabis without feeling the intoxicating effects,” adds his wife, Kristen Courtney.
Most people Brigitte Biesel’s age use their mini scales to weigh letters, but the 80-year-old bought hers to measure weed. “Recently, I saw one similar to mine on Bares für Rares [the German equivalent of Antiques Roadshow],” she tells me excitedly. As she’s chatting, she’s also trying to concentrate on grinding the cannabis buds onto her delicate silver scale.
Today is baking day at Biesel’s terraced house in Köpenick, Germany, a picturesque district in Berlin. “I think it’s safe to say that I’m the first person to bake this specific variety of cookies here,” she says, laughing.
Biesel loves to bake. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, she made vanilla rolls, cinnamon stars, and other treats for her extended family and friends. But her baking today isn’t about anyone else. I’m here to help her prepare her “medication,” as she likes to call it—cookies spiked with cannabis from a nearby pharmacy.
Biesel isn’t trying to get stoned and blank out the world. “That’s not really my thing,” she says. On the contrary—thanks to cannabis—she feels more alive. It makes her chronic pain more bearable, it helps her get out of bed in the morning, and it allows her to comfortably sit down in her garden under the rhododendrons, which she especially loves when they bloom red, white, and purple in spring and summer.
Her story is similar to the thousands of Germans who have found that cannabis works where conventional medicine has failed them. In March 2017, it became legal to obtain medicinal weed in Germany with a prescription, but relatively few clinics will prescribe it, and many health insurance companies don’t want to cover the costs. By the end of last year, more than 13,000 people had submitted insurance claims to the three largest health insurance companies in the country. The German government had estimated that only 700 people would apply. “They have no clue,” Biesel says.
For the past 60 years, Biesel has struggled with chronic pain. At 19, she was diagnosed with scoliosis—a condition where your spine twists and curves out of place. If you stand behind her, you can clearly see that her spine is not straight, but rather shaped like an “S.”
Still, Biesel was determined to live a full and active life, despite her condition, and spent her 20s skiing, cycling, and swimming, while working as a costume tailor for the revues at the Friedrichstadt-Palast theater in Berlin. But, in her 30s, she woke up one morning barely able to feel the entire left half of her body. “I couldn’t move my left hand—it just wouldn’t work,” she remembers.
In an East Berlin clinic, she was strapped onto a bed and pushed into an operating room. Bright lights, 20 students, and two professors stared down at her like she was the sole survivor of some UFO crash landing, she tells me now. Nobody could explain her paralysis. At the time, hospitals in East Germany didn’t have CT scanners, so the alternative was to push a hollow needle into her spinal cord in order to collect spinal fluid. The pain was so unbearable that she fainted.
The doctors discovered the cause of her paralysis was a slipped disc between her fifth and seventh vertebrae. She lived with the paralysis for almost 15 years until, in the 1980s, three Berlin doctors managed to stabilize her neck with a piece of her hip bone. She regained much of the feeling that she had lost. The doctors were allowed to leave Communist East Germany to present their revolutionary surgery in West Germany, but they never returned. “I had to do rehab by myself and make sure that the scars healed properly,” she says.
That wasn’t the end of her medical troubles. In 2000, she suffered a stroke, and the subsequent medication she was given damaged her intestines and stomach lining. On top of that, she was recently diagnosed with PNP—a rare form of muscle paralysis in which your immune system fights against your own nervous system. At times, she can’t get her legs to do what her mind wants.
For as long as she can remember, doctors in more than 50 different hospitals and clinics have prescribed super strength painkiller after super strength painkiller, but nothing has worked. And often, to combat the pills’ side effects, she’s prescribed even more drugs with even more side effects. When you listen to her outlining her medical history for half an hour, it becomes obvious why there’s a small pile of cannabis lying there on the kitchen table next to a vase with fresh tulips.
Biesel infusing some melted butter with weed
At the tail end of 2016, Biesel’s grandson came to visit and brought along some weed cookies for her to sample, to see whether they helped with the pain. She considered it for a moment before deciding that whatever they’d do, it couldn’t be much worse than her usual medication. She bit into one. It took about 30 minutes to kick in. “My pain didn’t go away completely, but when I ate the cookies, I felt lighter,” she explains. “I don’t think about the pain as much, and I don’t feel as sad either.” She goes on to tell me that she’s suffered from depression for the past 15 years, ever since she underwent a particularly difficult stomach operation. “Everything just isn’t as bad when I have the cookies.”
Biesel paid €110 [about $130] for 5 grams of cannabis and €160 [$195] as a consultation fee, while her husband drove ten miles to a pharmacy that actually stocks medicinal weed. Every time she bakes, she makes a batch big enough to last about two to three months. Her insurance company should cover the cost, “but they can be difficult at times,” she says.
Biesel’s latest doctor has prescribed her two different types of medicinal cannabis—Bakerstreet to help manage her pain in the morning, and Bediol to help her fall asleep at night. She’d rather not smoke a joint, she tells me because smoking used to give her problems with her circulation. Her grandson also gave her a cookbook with weed recipes, but the cookies are her favorite. “And two a day won’t make me fat,” she laughs. “Anyway, shall we start baking?”
1.5 grams of crushed cannabis
200 grams [1 1/2 cups] of flour
100 grams [1/2 cup] of butter
50 grams [1/4 cup] of sugar
A pinch of baking powder
1 egg yolk
Biesel carefully pours some cannabis onto the scale. At 1.47 grams, she stops before slowly adding some more, but overshoots her mark by 0.2 grams. “No, that’s too much,” she says to herself before taking bits off until she hits exactly 1.5 grams. She knows as well as anyone that precision is key, with medication and with baking.
Biesel mixes the weed butter into the dough.
Biesel kneads the ingredients for the dough together and covers the mix in plastic wrap, before leaving it to rest for at least an hour. Next, she melts a knob of butter in a small pan, and, as it simmers on her stove, she stirs the crushed buds into the butter.
Her kitchen—with its framed pictures of cozy benches and watercolors of berries and roses—soon fills with the sweet scent of her grandson’s recipe. “This all gets pretty smelly,” she warns me.
As the cannabis butter cools down, she preheats the oven to 220 degrees Celsius [428 degrees Fahrenheit] and kneads the weed butter into the dough until green speckles appear throughout. Before she finishes, she combines it with the leftover oil residue in the pan. “You don’t want any of it to go to waste,” she explains.
“People who say [cannabis is] just a narcotic don’t know what real pain is,” Biesel says. She never takes enough to get high. Well, except once with her grandson for fun. “We were sitting outside in the garden, and I ate three cookies,” she remembers. “I felt like I had drunk a glass and a half of red wine.”
After an hour, she rolls out the dough “evenly and thinly for a consistent effect,” before picking up a shot glass—her makeshift cookie cutter—and shaping 30 round dough balls onto a tray. They then go into the oven for 12 minutes. When they come out, Biesel has a way to manage her pain for the next few months.
One of Canada’s most prominent marijuana activists has taken aim at former police officers who have entered the country’s fledgling cannabis industry, saying it was “hard to stomach” that those who spent years sending people to jail for pot offences are now poised to profit as the country moves towards legalisation.
“It’s a mix of hypocrisy and pure profiteering,” Jodie Emery told the Guardian. “They made a living off tax dollars for trying to keep people out of the cannabis business and now they’re going to position themselves to cash in.”
The most controversial of these would-be entrepreneurs is Julian Fantino, a former Toronto police chief who once likened the decriminalisation of marijuana to legalising murder and, just two years ago, declared his complete opposition to legalisation.
Fantino recently announced that he would helm a company that connects patients to medical cannabis among other services. Medical marijuana is already legal in Canada.
A former Conservative MP, Fantino was also part of a government that sought to crackdown on marijuana offences, passing legislation stipulating mandatory jail time for those caught with six plants or more.
At the launch of his company, Aleafia, last month, Fantino waved off questions about his past views. “Days gone by, we all had a certain attitude and certain perception of things being what they are and what they were,” he told reporters.
Fantino said he had embarked on a “fact-finding mission” after being approached by Afghan war veterans who wanted access to marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and pain. “[I] learned a lot about this whole space and medical marijuana and that to me was the conversion, if you will, to enable us to be more helpful to people who are not presently attaining the kind of results from their medication, which is usually opiates.” Fantino did not respond to a request for an interview with the Guardian.
Emery described Fantino’s message as deeply offensive. “I’m always happy to see our opponents admit that we were right by adopting our messaging and what we’ve been saying for so long,” she said. “But it’s hard to stomach when he isn’t saying that he’s sorry for arresting people for cannabis, he’s not saying sorry for ruining lives and trying to prevent access to patients and veterans for all those years.”
“Our citizens should know the urgent facts…but they don’t because our media serves imperial, not popular interests. They lie, deceive, connive and suppress what everyone needs to know, substituting managed news misinformation and rubbish for hard truths…”—Oliver Stone